Human Flower Project
Q. What’s in Manila’s Name? A. White Star-Shaped Flowers
As San Agustin church celebrates its 400th anniversary, Philippinos long for the lost nilad tree.
The Philippine Star recognizes the 400th birthday of San Agustin Church in Intramuros, one of the few churches to survive “the liberation of Manila,” because a U.S. pilot refused to obey the order to bomb it.
What’s this have to do with flowers? It’s all goes back to an Augustinian friar.
Philippinos have debated where the city of Manila got its name. People seemed to agree that it referred to the nilad plant. but they couldn’t be sure what a nilad actually was.
“One group stoutly maintained that the plant in question was the indigo. To support their argument, they cited that nilad is the Sanskrit word for indigo. The truth is that the Sanskrit nilad does not refer to the plant but the dye and there is a Tagalog word for that dye tayum. The whole question was settled when a scholar produced plate 277 of Blanco’s Flora.”
That’s Fr. Manuel Blanco (1779-1837), who developed a botanical research garden at the church celebrating its 400th birthday today. Blanco’s Flora de Filipinas, first printed in 1837, has served as a guide to the islands’ plants ever since.
Fr. Blanco described Scyphiphora hydrophyllaces, locally known as nilad: a tree with white star-shaped flowers. He wrote, “Manila denotes a place where there are many of this tree and from this, great Manila derived its name.”
Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate a photo of this tree or its flowers to post here. Alejandro Roces of the Philippine Star, wrote, “Today Manila should change its name. There are no nilads any more. It is now wanted walang nilqad. We have often wondered why the Manila City Hall has made no efforts to plant nilad if only to preserve the sturdy tree with white star-shaped flowers and drupe-like fruits that inspired Manila’s name.”
In recent years, Fr. Blanco’s Garden at the San Agustin church has been restored. Maybe the nilad’s return will be next.